I was 10 years old the day I found him. I had just gotten home from school, and was brooding over the stresses of my prepubescent life as I used the key around my neck to unlock the front door. When I stepped inside, I could see the door to the bathroom was open and the light was on. Thinking I’d left it on before school, I hurriedly went to flip the switch before my parents got home.
When I found him, he was half submerged in the bathtub, his chin resting slightly under water. His right arm dangled lifelessly from the side of the tub, dripping water into an already mucky pink puddle. Vomit enveloped his body, for which I was thankful; I had never seen my father naked. The stench smacked me in the face, testing my willpower not to vomit, or simply turn and run. I was frozen in fear, as I stared at my father covered in his own blood and regurgitation.
My mother found us two hours later. I was curled in a ball, head between my knees, left hand clutching my father’s cold right hand. I remember her saying my name, telling me to let go of my father’s hand, but the blood rushing through my ears muffled her voice. It took three E.M.T.s to pry me away from my father, and even with three grown men, I remember putting up a valiant fight. My mother took my hand, the same hand that had held my father’s and guided me slowly to the front yard. I watched as they wheeled the gurney into the ambulance, shut the door, and started the engine. As they drove away, I recalled a saying I had overheard some years before; “If an ambulance drives away without their lights and sirens, the patient is already dead.” I watched in silence as they drove away in complete darkness.
That night, my mother sat me and my sister down and told us our dad was dead. She said words like, drugs, cocaine, and overdose. She told us not to be scared, but I was terrified. I looked into my little sister’s eyes and saw disbelief and incomprehension. I knew she understood the idea of death, but I wasn't sure she realized her daddy was never coming home again. For the first time in many years, I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.
The nightmares kept me up most the night. I dreamt of holding my dead father’s hand. I dreamt of his lifeless body rising from the tub, dragging me with him into an open grave full of blood and vomit. When the phone rang at 3:13am I was already wide awake, searching every corner for moving shadows. As I eavesdropped on my mother’s conversation in the other room, I heard her scream and the phone hit the floor. I leapt from the top bunk, not worried about waking my sleeping sister and rushed to my parent’s room. The phone lay shattered on the hardwood floor, as my mother sat with her face in her hands. Her sobs were deep, soulful, wracking sobs, shaking her entire body. I had never seen my mother cry, and I felt myself freezing up again. She lowered her hands, looked at me with eyes as red as sapphire and mumbled, “your father is alive.”
12 MONTHS LATER
The previous twelve months had been the most difficult of my short life. My father had died and come back to life, and I wasn't mentally or emotionally equipped to handle it. Our father-son relationship had deteriorated, mostly because I didn’t know how to act around him. I had held his hand when he was a corpse, I had listened to my mother tell me he was never coming home again, but there he was. I was a child lost in a world of adult problems, and I was losing my sanity.
It wasn’t until my 11th birthday that I realized my father spent more and more of his time away. When he missed my birthday, I built up the courage to ask him where he'd been. He said words like, drugs, cocaine, and rehabilitation. He spoke to me with a shame in his eyes I had never seen, and would hope to never see again. Yet, behind that shame I saw hope and determination, and I knew whatever rehabilitation was it was changing him. He asked me if I would like to be a part of his new beginning. I told him I loved him, and would do what he needed of me.
Two months after my birthday, my father got dressed in his nicest suit and tie. He combed his hair the way my mother always liked, and put on the aftershave she loved so much. I put on my Easter suit, although Easter was still a month away. I remember taking a picture with my father, the two of us dressed like movie stars, smiling together like we hadn't done in over a year.
My father drove us to a small building made of brick in the middle of an industrial park. There was no name stenciled on the building or a neon sign advertising it's function. We parked the Volkswagen in the back among a few dozen other cars, and entered the building through the door opposite the street. We walked into a crowd of people, most seated in fold out chairs, but a few standing by coffee pots and open boxes of donuts. The noise was loud, but not unbearable, just the sound of thirty or so people talking amongst themselves. My father led me through the gaggle of men and women and ushered me up a set of stairs. He grabbed my hand and took me to a staging area where a man sat with his hands clasped over his large belly. He and my father exchanged happy smiles, a handshake, and the man placed a small coin in my father's palm. He thanked the man, hugged him, and we watched him descend the stairs.
A few moments passed between my father and I in complete silence before the P.A. system blared to life. I couldn't see the man speaking because we were standing backstage, but I could tell it was the same man who had given my father the coin.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming today. Today is a special day. A day of happiness and new beginnings. Today we celebrate the life of a man who has chosen to change. This man hit bottom harder than most. At one point he was declared dead from an overdose, but God saw a reason to send him back, and He did. Today he is 12 months sober, and that is worth celebration.”
I looked up at my father, his eyes full of tears, and a smile on his face. He turned to me, kissed my forehead, and told me this was all for me. He hugged me harder than he'd ever done before, stood up, and rubbed his hands together. He heard the curtain go up, the applause, and stepped out on the stage. Today he would start his new life, and I would be there to hold his hand along the way.
Free writing to keep the juices flowing.
<!-- AddToAny BEGIN -->
<div class="a2a_kit a2a_follow a2a_default_style" data-a2a-url="https://stevenwjohnsonii.weebly.com/1/feed">
<a class="a2a_dd" href="https://www.addtoany.com/subscribe"><img src="https://static.addtoany.com/buttons/subscribe_256_24.png" width="256" height="24" border="0" alt="Subscribe"></a>
<script async src="https://static.addtoany.com/menu/page.js"></script>
<!-- AddToAny END -->